I am weary of those
who claim to have no
agenda in their doing,
for what rock rose did not bloom
by any other means than
fierce, unrelenting desire?
Call your direction what
it is, your desires what they
are, your wanting yet unmet.
How could it be otherwise?
A plant reaches for the sun,
its life in the yearning.
I’m teaching a new kind of workshop at the end of this month, both a first for me but also something that has been in the center of my heart for a long, long time.
It’s an approach to bodywork and movement training that also centers the field of interaction, that which doesn’t belong to anyone in particular but is a relational field.
If you’ve followed my take on anatomy, you may notice a correlation here with the three all-pervasive communication systems of the body: the nervous, vascular and fascial systems.
There is a fourth circle that isn’t on here, but perhaps someday will be named as such, which we can think of as energetic. This all-pervasive field is perhaps represented anatomically through the electromagnetic field created and perceived through the heart. Prajna.
(I’m not explicitly naming it as such in this training as for me it is so intertwined with the interpersonal piece, I think I will just leave it at that.)
Here’s to what we gain through, and the price of, codifying something! I’m sure looking forward to it.
A friend recently sent me a text, asking for advice on how to stay with difficult emotions. She she was a master at avoiding them. I sent her the following piece from author and teacher Matt Licata. (I’m currently in an online course with Matt called “Befriending Yourself in Difficult Times” and I’m really appreciating it.) Maybe these words speak to you, too. Love, LB
Becoming curious about and “staying with” a difficult thought, feeling, or bodily sensation is not the same as passively wallowing in it, becoming flooded by it, merging with it, becoming enmeshed in, or fusing with it.
The invitation is into a very pregnant, creative, and not easy middle territory in between engulfment and the other extreme of rejection, turning from the life that is emerging, and abandoning ourselves in moments of emotional activation.
Navigating and holding the tension of those opposites is a much more fiery, active process rooted in the aliveness of our attention, care, compassion, and interest in psyche and its manifestations. It is oriented in curiosity and the longing to care for ourselves in a new way.
In this we dare to consider that even our most challenging symptoms, emotions, recurring thought patterns, vulnerabilities, and sensitivities are intelligent, filled with sacred data, and worthy of our tending.
We must go slow as we explore this new landscape, for seconds at a time testing the waters as we overwrite the circuitry of shame and self-aggression with that of compassion and attunement.
We must pay careful attention to our window of tolerance and while pushing up against it and exploring its borderlines, to not push ourselves into overwhelm or retraumatization. It can take a lot of experimentation and practice to discover this area of experience for ourselves.
Even one or two seconds, then rest. And then maybe three seconds and then rest. And then care for ourselves by taking time away from inner work and nourishing ourselves in other ways – taking a walk, talking with a friend, taking a bath, doing some yoga, playing with our dog, making a nice meal, spending time in nature.
No urgency, no great hurry, no glorious self-improvement project to complete by the end of the week. Just love. Slow. Curious. Caring for ourselves in new and wild ways. One second at a time.
(By Matt Licata. Pulled from this post.)
What if we considered breathing to be a problem? Just for fun, let’s play it out.
We would celebrate those at the top of their inhales, holding their breath. Five seconds into it, the breath holders might be teaching workshops about having overcome this great dilemma. It used to plague them, but no more! And indeed, they’d look great, quite confident even. Who’d be we not to believe them?
Of course, if they stayed with it longer than a minute, maybe five or even ten if they were genetically gifted — and karmically blessed of course — what would happen to these gurus? They might not give up their seats, and quietly sneak in a few soft inhale-exhale cycles, then get back on track to the breath transcendence lecturing. It was just a moment, why make a bother about it? Besides, no one even knows.
But better yet, they may bottom out, fall apart, the great pressure cooker of a face right before the organism is fully defeated, fully laid out, then lying on the floor, quietly, fresh with the gift of no agenda, taking a long, sweet breath, at last.
(And of course then, why would we treat our sadnesses, our griefs and sorrows, any differently?)
Consider the difference between these two medicinal postures: treatment that seeks to change, and treatment that seeks to orient the patient to where they are.
I don’t mean to glamorize the latter. If you’re losing blood through a severed artery, you want change, not orientation. Likewise perhaps if you have a virus, though even that, perhaps, is starting to bleed into a variance in what you’d want, depending on who you are (at that moment).
Spatial medicine — bodywork et al — asks these questions all the time. Schools, both of thought and the literal schools that train people, tend to organize around one stance or the other.
Many, of course, do both at different ratios and in their own way. Structural Integration, one of the tools in my kit, tends toward change as medicine for sure, but orientation — indeed, integration! — is a big part of it. Again, that’ll change not only from method to method, but practitioner to practitioner.
Other schools like Continuum or Open Floor dance, from what I understand of these approaches, tend towards orientation as medicine. “Where are you and what’s that like? What’s it like being you right now? What wants to arise, here and now?” Questions — spoken or not — like that.
Yoga āsana is another example of a school that can be strongly one outlook or the other, and most some of both.
It’s an interesting question, I think, to ask ourselves if we find one of these orienting questions — change or be with? — more inherently useful, or more evolved or whatever we tend to prize as a metric.
Psychotherapy seems to have similar differences in orientation. (Again, from what I understand. I’m not a therapist.)
Difficulty arises. And change-centered outlooks does just that: seeks to change. Orientation-centered outlook might not seek to change the state per se.
Both seek to help, no? So of course, et’s be kind to each other’s outlooks here. A liver cell has a way different outlook of what’s important than a fibroblast in the iliotibial band does, but they are both of the same body and, indeed, coordinated by the same intelligence.
The great joke of this is, of course, how either of these approaches can lead to the same place (or whatever you want to call it). A masterful surgeon must be keenly, exquisitely oriented towards the way things are in order to make the change she needs to make in the patient.
Episode 49 is live. Peter Levine founded Somatic Experiencing, a body-oriented approach to healing trauma. (Many of you reading this I know are familiar with his work.) In this interview, we hear about the origins of that work, and a lot about what's now, and what's next, for this pioneer.
Tune in at http://www.thebodyawake.com/levine/ or anywhere you find podcasts.
Dearest Body Awake Readers + Listeners ~
I am recently back from a wonderful 5-day immersion in Hakomi with Donna Martin (remember our interview?) and recorded Episode 48, which also happens to be a few days after The Body Awake’s 3rd anniversary. May 18, and a full moon this year!
So here’s Full Moon : a Third Anniversary Special.
May it be a nourishing part of your sweet unfolding, friend.
From mine to yours, LB
ps July immersion is over half full; would love to have you join us if you’re keen
If I were to start a school — a body-centered awareness training — I would highlight a few things foremost:
- listening. period. listening is listening is listening, whether with your hands (palpation) or eyes (visual assessment) or ears.
- time observing nature.
- anti-fragility / resilience. so much of the alignment-based paradigm, while it can be a real gift, can be a very firm cage of posture, and linear-progression mentality. and here’s the kicker: if you believe it, it is so.
- communication and wholeness in our anatomy. I suppose it was helpful to learn the name, action, origin and insertion of each muscle, but far, FAR more interesting and primarily useful, I think, is an embodied understanding of how a body communicates with itself, and the anatomy of connection (and no, “it’s all connected” doesn’t cut it)
- systems of inter-body communication, how we harm and heal each other, permission, boundaries and consent, and the social aspect of the autonomic nervous system.
- writing and speaking with integrity and clarity.
The body awake immersion this summer will be a small gesture, looking in this direction. It's for anyone interested, not just bodywork folks.
Deets: July 25 - 27 / Bellingham, WA / $345.
We’ve begun to fill up (max 12), which is exciting. PM or email me with interest, cheers and thanks. Love, Liam
Embryology, Phylogenetics and Holons
Are you familiar with the term “holon”? If you’ve listened to The Body Awake, you may’ve heard me mention it here and there, as I love the model. A holon is anything that is a complete system unto itself, and also part of a larger complete system.
Examples abound: cells are a complete life, and cells also make organs, which also make a whole human body.
We could also say this just as truthfully in reverse order: that your couch is comprised of fibers, which are comprised of molecules, which are comprised of atoms, which are comprised of …
Therein lies the beauty of the lens, I think. It’s pointing to something that is indeed hierarchical, but that hierarchy runs both ways.
As in, it’s true that there are more complex, we could say more evolved, versions of things.
And it is also true that what’s above depends on what’s below, but the inverse isn’t true: You can have an atom without having a molecule, but you can’t have a molecule without atoms. You can’t have an organ without cells, but cells can exist and not be part of an organ.
Phew. Okay, so … pause that for a second. Let’s look at embryology and phylogeny.
Our gut tube is our “oldest” system. It’s in quotes because, embryologically all our tissues develop more or less at the same time. But it’s true that there exists a phylogenetic hierarchy.
✨“Phylogenetic heirarchy.” Say that at your next cocktail party and prepare to be envied for your vast intellect! ✨
But really: phylogenetics is the study of how species develop, or evolution, which is a useful metaphor at least (if you’ve heard terms like “lizard brain” or “monkey mind,” you’re familiar with this metaphor in action; you don’t actually have a lizard brain, but you do have a brain stem and so do reptiles; it’s the first evolutionary expression of a collation of a central nervous system.)
A lizard also has a gut tube. So do you. So do single celled plankton. Nutrition in; waste out. It’s the oldest game around.
The nervous system is our “newest” development. I think a lot about the nervous system. (So meta! I know.)
I used to think much more that “awareness” had no particular location. It was a nice non-dual thought for a nice non-dual guy like me. But now, from all that I’m learning, I’m pretty sure “awareness” as we conceive of it — that is “I am aware” — is, indeed, a function of the nervous system.
In fact, we could say that’s what the nervous system IS, that that’s the WHOLE POINT: to be aware. Why? To keep you, the organism, alive.
✨See that tiger (via your optic nerves et al)? Run.
✨Feel that touch of your lover (via a whole host of afferent nerve endings)? Lovely. Stay and enjoy. Digest. Get an erection or secrete vaginal lubrication and maybe even procreate.
✨Hold a vision of a life you think you deserve (for better or worse)? Watch it become so.
The nervous system is a higher system. It just is.
The locomotor, i.e. our musculoskeletal system, is in the middle.
The guts are on the “bottom.”
BUT! We’d be fools to think, then, that the nervous system is somehow “better,” or it’s just a matter of get this in a row and everything will fall into place.
Of course that might prove to be true. But just as easily we could make a case for any particular holon. Cellular healing of all traditions works at this level. Healing of the guts works to influence awareness / experience by working at a “lower” holon level (which, of course and again, is only “lower” from one perceptive; from another, it’s “more essential” because it’s a prerequisite for higher functioning, but not vice versa).
You can have a gut tube without anything else, but you can’t have locomotion without a digestive system, and you sure can’t have a nervous system — “awareness” — without either of those: a means of moving life through and a body of tissue with which to sense.
The moral of this story: take care of each other. “Lesser evolved” is also a way of saying “more foundational and therefore essential.”
Or as philosopher Ken Wilber said (in his book that rocked my world when I was 22, A Brief History of Everything): the mantra of the holon is: transcend and include.
Transcendence without inclusion is hollow and incomplete.
Inclusion without transcendence (more complex organization) is stagnant, and not how life moves.
“Chill” says that, no matter what, don’t lose your cool. As a doing, it’s a state we’re going for, a command.
“Released of extraneous tension” points to that your cool is your body’s autonomic response to any given moment. Are there responses being lived in your body to events that are not actually happening now? (Of course, yes, for me too.)
As a doing, this release of the extraneous is an inquiry, a living hum perfect matched to every ripple of reality.
“How tense should you be?” makes absolutely no sense without the context of “What is actually happening?”
Most of the time, indeed, there’s no reason to be in a huff. But trying to chill out is reverse engineering. Ask what’s extraneous, and listen. The answer may be chill, but it might not.
We are not
made in the image
of our creator.
We are not
made at all,
from seed —
animated by the
as all living
I sit this morning
to summarize old
ideas that only yesterday
called my name,
were so real,
so vital, but now
so difficult to conceive,
note of them
in my notebook
where I hold
such ideas, and
return today, amazed
at the difference between
a photograph of a bird
and a bird.
I had forgotten!
in my bones that
hold my bones
how insight is not
an accretion of insight,
but a radical emptying.
A week ago, I posted a one-minute video with a quick takeaway: if one sees painful stuff going down and does not intervene to help, one is likely to live with a particular kind of bystander trauma.
Of course, the person or peeps for whom the painful stuff went down can live with their own particular pains, as can those who intervened to help!
As we all know by now, this isn't about finding the way through life unscathed — but I do think this particular aspect is worth highlighting, for two reasons.
1. We could think of this particular "bystander trauma" as a stuck movement.
As in: the bystander's gut instinct was to do something. That's literally in their body. But for whatever reason they didn't (and maybe good reason! like "oh, they already have help" or something), and that movement is now in the tissue, incomplete, and we call it "tension."
2. It's not a stretch, for many of us at least, to think of this systemically.
And imagine: you see something horrific, and you can't / don't do anything about it ... One very sane response, from a biological perspective, is to "other" the beings to whom the atrocity is happening.
The further they are from your heart, the less pain you'll feel. I want to highlight: this is a very sane response from a certain perspective, and happening mostly if not entirely below the level of conscious thought.
The kicker, of course, is our body knows this is b.s. — that "they" are "us."
(Thank you to one of my teachers and previous guest on the show, Lauren Christman, for presenting this insight as part of the idea in our class a couple weeks ago. It landed with me deeply and has been churning since.)
ps hello! are you enjoying these writings? getting something out of some of them? want to hear more on a particular idea? please do respond to this, or any email — I’d love to hear from you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships.
We all began, way back when, immersed in “we.” There was no separation, for better or worse, between your experience of the world and your mother’s.
Then “I” was born. Quite a stark difference, eh.
And of course, there’s no “I” without “you.” You the cup. You the lock of hair. You the voice in the far corner of the room. You the sound that evokes in me a great panic, or great relief, or both.
How do I relate to all this? A new “we” — a relationship between “I” and “you” — is born.
And that’s what we’re tending in this life, I reckon.
Though it’s the same word, it can point to two radically different points of orientation.
There’s the “we” of Unity and the “we” of ordinary, day-to-day relationships, where there is obviously a relationship but even more obviously there are two separate beings in that relationship.
There’s no merged state in this one. And that's evident: a brick dropped on your foot doesn’t hurt me like a brick dropped on my own foot.
I know, and thankfully, everything above is all the most obvious stuff in the world. But in a world where we use that word a lot — “we” — I think it’s worth inquiring into what we’re actually after, what we’re pointing to when we say that.
I write this this morning as I pontificate on some class material — which for me is increasingly inextricably linked to “life material” — and think about perspectives: “we” as both an inarguable fact from which you and I emerged, and also something we must tend, with care and ferocity, as if our lives depend on it.
(Because, of course, they do.)
Episode 46 — the first interview of Season 3 — is live with yoga-teacher-since-the-early-80s Patty Townsend.
I was struck with how Patty embodied a kind of deep silence and yet used her words well, and how she offered her experience with both humility and clarity.
We go into what teaching yoga in the States in the early 80's was like, the distinction between purification and clarification, even a really sweet — if not super disarming — tip for teachers on how to begin a class ... a home practice you can do to feel the buoyancy of your internal organs ... and heaps more.
I really enjoyed this one; hope you do too! You can find it anywhere podcasty, on the tba website.
Because we hardly would ever say that — “you are fragile” — as a compliment.
Four things that I think are important to remember here, not as an end but as a starting point (rooted in the truth as best as I can see it):
1.. The quality of fragility abounds in nature — including but not limited to snowflakes.
(Which, if you’re not familiar, is a common diss, originally of the “liberal snowflake” variety but now something that’s been taken by all sorts of groups. It means the recipient of the metaphor is not able to handle any more than a tiny amount of stress, or conflict; that they break too easily.)
2. And the thing is: it’s a quality. It’s not something you are or aren’t any more than you are or aren’t nice — we’ve all been kind and we’ve all been a’holes.
And it’s a transient quality, depending on all sorts of things, just like whether you are warm right now, or your bladder is full, is a transient quality. You’re not “someone with a full bladder” as a kind of permanent status. You are that until you aren’t … until you drink more water and are again …
3. It’s also one ingredient that co-exists with other ingredients. Even with anti-fragility — which if you’re not familiar with Nassim Taleb’s idea, I’d highly recommend googling it; it’s a really beautiful concept and, yes, it’s different than “resilient” or “robust" —
Like the bones of our body. Are they fragile or anti-fragile? Yes to both. They both “thrive on randomness, stressors and error” (an anti-fragile quality) and are harmed by too much stress (a fragile quality).
All living systems are this way, from cells to whales.
4. Lastly, consider back to point #1, can someone be too fragile? Of course. It’s probably really good medicine for a lot of us to buck the f’ up.
AND … and … consider the autonomic nervous system.
Consider what any animal does when in a deeply contracted fear state. That’s a fragile state. It’s very, very tender.
And sometimes you help that animal out by telling it to toughen up, and some of the time you do so by helping that animal feel safe, and watch as it begins to display more anti-fragile properties of its own accord.
(And of course we may be more than, but we certainly are, animals.)
Fragile systems are a part of nature’s wisdom. And from this wisdom, we also know they are not a life sentence: They can be affected, for better or worse, by you and by me.
Tired of being a disembodied thinker? We’ve got you covered. Time to crush your 2019 embodiment goals!
(Not seeing a video? Click here.)
ps it’s April 1. If you’re getting this via emails, it’s April 2, but hopefully you get the joke.
But! And! Brooke Thomas and I are indeed almost finished with a project that this idea has been our joke introduction for. So … this, but for real, coming soon.
Have a look at the images below. What do they all have in common?
Which of these seem more like reality to you?
If you're a body-centered practitioner, which of these do you perceive as giving you the best access to the territory of the human wilderness?
What is included in your favorite body maps and, just as if not more importantly ...
... what's not?
Michael Hamm and I are co-teaching a one-day workshop in Seattle on this very subject. You can read about it and sign up if you’d like to, here.
“Begin Again” — aka “after the exhale”
I search for and cannot find
the Great Way,
while its only-thing-here’ness
has never been more obvious.
But that’s not why I write this morning.
I want to make sense of the past —
the radical suffering,
if not mine now
The answer is always the same.
Silence, silence, silence …
then a car horn. Then the banging
of garbage cans being emptied,
a bird of Bellingham spring,
the scratch of my pen on paper …
all excitedly announcing their place
in the family of things,
over and over again.
Silence is the answer, eternal
— is that not obvious?
is it not ready to devour these words
as soon as they stop
at the same time,
Your life is calling you,
and it has never, ever
been a more perfect time
to say something
Yes, you are it.
And, you are hearing it.
Just as you can touch your leg
with your hand, and be both
the one touching and
the one touched.
Hear yourself now, speaking.
And hear yourself now,
ps first interview of season three recorded today, I’ll put it up soon
On Sharing. Aka processing a bit from yesterday.
I often feel / think into how much I’m going to share of my personal process, out into the world.
Yesterday’s blog post was a peek into what life can be like for me. I heard from several of you — most everyone in some sort of “thank you; this is nice to read” but one listener brought up a vital point: you share something too early and it can be like dissecting something living, something in process. (I will certainly be sitting with that image for awhile.)
As far as making a rule about “do share” or “don’t share” a personal process … as many of you already know, I find it useful to feel into the “at best” and “at worst” aspects of any given teaching.
>>> And, before we begin, know that no teaching gets to be spared from this. There are no words so pure that they haven’t been used for horrific crimes, and none so vile that they haven’t helped someone at some point. <<<
At best, personal sharing says “hey, that painful thing you might be going through, I not only have gone through that in some distant past, I really, intimately get it. You are not alone.”
At worst, something happens akin to the listener’s insight about dissection. Something dies prematurely, the shadow never really gets to fully compost, to die into what it will become. (Imagine if you poked your head into a cocoon mid-process. Game over.)
And at best, not sharing is just that: really time for you to be you. For me to be me. To fully have our own experience, free of “how is this going to sound when I put it on paper for the world to see, or share this with my yoga class tonight?”
And at worst, not sharing means isolation, the kind that withers you like lack of sunlight and fresh air. It means fear and not putting anything out into the world because you feel like it’s not ready, the kind of ready that it will never be because, of course, you never really are. You do it anyway.
Digestion / thoughts. I’d love to hear your take on this, dear reader, if you’d care to share.
Thanks, love, from my life to yours, Liam
ps if you didn’t catch it, you might really enjoy the 15-min yielding to the “it’s not going to be okay” meditation